Melanoma is 1 of 3 types of skin cancers and is the sole type that could spread, making it the only one that can cause death. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers among 20- to 35-year olds. It begins in melanocytes – the cells that produce the pigment melanin that colours the skin, hair and eyes.
How to Identify Melanoma?
Checking for Melanoma is way easier than other internal cancers since the cancer presents itself externally on our skin. There are different characteristics that help identify whether a new or a pre-existing mole is benign or malignant. While anyone may contract melanoma, those that have a lot of moles on their body are at a greater risk. The importance is to do regular checks and to get to know your skin very well. Follow the ABCDE rule for visual signs of melanomas:
A (Asymmetry) – melanomas tend to be irregular in shape and therefore asymmetrical.
B (Border) – benign moles have smooth and even borders, whereas melanoma has a map like appearance with uneven borders and edges appear difficult to define.
C (Colour) – benign moles are all one colour, often a single shade of brown. Melanomas have more than one colour such as brown, black, tan, blue, red. The uneven distribution of colour is a warning sign of a melanoma.
D (Diameter) – melanoma lesions are often greater than 5 millimetres in diameter but can be smaller when first detected.
E (Evolution/Change) – common benign moles look the same over time, however, when a mole has gone through a recent change in colour, size, shape, etc it is important to bring it to the attention of your dermatologist. It is also important to keep an eye out of any new moles that appear suddenly.
Melanoma Causes and Risk Factors
Everyone is at risk of contracting melanoma. Below is a list of several factors that cause melanoma to occur.
- Sun Exposure – UVA and UVB rays cause melanoma. Repeated sun exposure in childhood and later in life increases the risk of melanoma.
- Mole Type – small blemishes aka beauty marks do not run the risk of becoming melanoma. Atypical moles put you in the risk of melanoma. The more moles you have the greater the risk for melanoma. Moles may also become larger or show changes in colour and are more active during puberty and during pregnancies. People who have moles and have a family history of melanoma run the risk of getting melanoma.
- Skin Type – People with fair hair and lighter skin colour are at an increased risk
- Personal History – If you had melanoma before, you run the risk of reoccurrence.
- Family History – if your family has a history of melanoma then you are at risk of contracting melanoma. About 1 in 10 patients diagnosed with melanoma has a family member with a history of melanoma.
How to prevent and treat Melanoma
Prevention is better than cure! While tanning gives you a much-desired glow to your skin you must take the necessary precautions to avoid melanomas. Skin cancer is no joke!
A pan-European campaign – Euromelanoma was set up to raise awareness on skin cancer, prevention and treatment. Early detection and taking necessary preventions to avoid getting melanomas can save your life. Follow these precautions to tee.
- Limit sun exposure as much as possible, especially during peak hours from 10 AM to 4 PM
- Do not get burnt by the sun
- Avoid using UV tanning beds
- Clothing is a good way to protect your skin from intensive sunlight. Darker clothes give better protection than lighter ones. Where possible wear a hat and sunglasses that have polarising and UV filters.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA & UVB) sunscreen that has an SPF rating of 50+. Use it daily and apply it to your face and body. Apply it more than once, ideally every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Examine your skin from head to toe every month.
- Seek a dermatologist every year for a professional skin exam.
- Take periodical photos of any moles that concern you.
These precautionary measures are applicable to everyone, adults, teens, children and newborns alike.
Early diagnosis of melanoma can be treated, increasing chances of a full recovery. If you see a suspicious lesion do not ignore it and hope it goes away. If treatment is delayed, the condition may worsen, and may even cause death. Don’t be afraid to see your doctor or physician!
Remember, 90% of Melanomas are curable if detected in their early stages!